I was thinking of Arthur C. Clarkes’ Third Law, that any significantly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I’m tossing around ideas for a fantasy novel and as my roots of fantasy are not only in novels but RPGs, I can’t help but conjure up images of certain spellbooks, usually with second-rate binding and prodigious amounts of unnecessary minutiae – the likes of which do indeed take a true wizard to decipher. Yeah, I’m referring to the DnD Player’s handbook.
The thought struck me that of all the classic Dungeons and Dragons spells, designed to emulate magical, mystical occurrences in fantasy, myth and religion and provide a framework for collaborative fiction, most are no longer that ‘magical’. Curing wounds, disease, even altering our very appearances – these are all everyday things. Sure, they don’t manifest at the wave of a wand. But, neither do spells. They have material components, usually or arcane words and hand motions at the very least.
But we’ve beat the pants of magic with technology. It isn’t a complex course of study, nor does it require pacts with otherworldly creatures (well, that’s debatable) and each and everyone of us either have, or know someone that has direct access to something way cooler than a magic wand – a cellphone.
So I got to thinking, which ‘spells’ can I replicate with a smartphone?
With Google, I might as well be walking up to the Oracle at Delphi and plugging into the source – divination spells are a gimme. Light, Finding Direction, Mnemonic Enhancers, any number of skill ‘boosting’ spells, various minor illusions – it’s all available in the palm of our hands. Of course, any spell that allows communication over vast distances, like Whispering Wind, a smartphone beats hands down. (The funny thing is, the spells a phone excels at – communication and divination, are often heavily restricted in gaming due to their plot altering effects.)
What does this mean for magic? I wonder if this means magic in fantasy will necessarily have evolved as well. If your reader can do all these amazing things from their palm will they expect more out of magic? Less? Do they want to see clearly epic magic which is divorced from anything resembling reality, or are they looking for magic that is grounded and structured around a well-defined base, sort of like a counterpart to science? I’ve seen it both ways (but it seems recently I’ve seen more of the later).
I think in a lot of ways it plays into the genre blurring that is so popular right now. I don’t think we as readers / audience know or even care where that line is anymore. We just want to be amazed and that’s perhaps increasingly difficult to do. At any rate, it’s interesting to think of how our capabilities might have an effect on our notions of fantasy. What do you think?